Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stream a Little Stream - The Executioner's Song

Norman Mailer wrote the Emmy-winning screenplay for the gritty 1982 Southern drama The Executioner's Song, adapting his true life novel of the same name. Emmy voters may have had a soft spot for schizophrenia in the early eighties, considering that this film and its characters shift attitude and tone so often that viewers may think they've stumbled into a Utah desert full of Sybils.

Tommy "Alleged Jim Carrey-Hater" Lee Jones stars as career criminal Gary Gilmore, who ends a twelve-year prison sentence and is released into the custody of his cousin, Brenda (Christine Lahti). Gary, who was sentenced for armed robbery, has a hard time adjusting to life outside the pen (stuffing sliced tomato in his mouth as if he's rushing through lunch in a prison cafeteria, trying to make out with his cousin while her husband watches in annoyance through a window), but is soon constructively employed and tooling around in a Ford Mustang supplied by his boss.

"Damn straight we cray."

He soon meets Nicole Baker (Rosanna Arquette, with her magnificent bazooms in a key supporting role), who is sixteen years his junior and implies that she has reached Blanche Devereaux-esque heights of sexual experience. All of her partnerships, she tells Gary, have been rooted in simple crushes, not love. This bit of disclosure makes it all the more confusing when she is deeply, all-encompassingly in love with Gary within perhaps twenty hours of meeting him.
From this point, relationships between characters start to twist and flip-flop. "Wow, Gary and Nicole sure do love each other. Look at the nakedness of emoti-Wait, why is Nicole French-kissing a mutual friend at a backyard party while casting Gary spiteful glances?" At first, it is suggested that Nicole and Gary find refuge in each other, both products of an unfeeling world that has no desire to understand them. Suddenly, Nicole is lobbing insults and Gary is belting her in the face and threatening her with a butcher knife. Through the gobbledygook, it is revealed that both Gary and Nicole abuse drugs, but the viewer needs to backtrack to try to establish a clean link between the drug abuse and their unpredictable behavior.

Director's Cut: Fifteen Percent More Rosanna Arquette Boobage

The head-scratching continues as Gary falls back into his prior criminal habits. The dual armed robberies that he commits before his arrest are not odd, considering what the viewer already knows about his character; the fact that he punctuates those crimes with the murders of those he robs, however, is. His second-act bloodlust appears unprecedented, and the reactions of his family members are disdainfully irritable when they should be shocked and horrified. When Gary and Brenda are in Brenda's backyard discussing his strained relationship with Nicole and Gary says, with utmost sincerity, "Maybe I'll kill 'er," Brenda all but rolls her eyes at him as if he said he was considering shoplifting a box of Yodels from the Piggly Wiggly.

Spoiler Alert (do you care?): Gary is sentenced to death for the murders, and lobbies for the sentence to be carried out ASAP so he doesn't have to deal with the abusive, stifling atmosphere of prison again. In the scenes leading to those of his execution by gunfire, Gary's family members roll over to the prison for some good old-fashioned clownin' and dancin'. Nicole reads a letter from Gary riddled with emo platitudes and realizes that, no, she doesn't hate him after all, she really really LOVES the sumbitch and needs to commit suicide so that they can be together in their next lives. Her suicide attempt, like most of this off-putting mishmash of a film, fails. Grade: D-